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We all experience stress at times. It’s not so hard to handle when we’re young, but as we age, coping with stress isn’t as easy. “We have less resilience to stress, and older adults often find that stress affects them differently now,” says Dr. Michelle Dossett, , an internal and integrative medicine specialist. What’s different about coping with stress when we’re older? “Our cells are aging. Heart fitness and lung capacity decline, especially if you’re sedentary,” says Dr. Dossett.

Symptoms of stress may include tension headaches, indigestion, heart palpitations, poor concentration, sleep difficulties, anxiety, irritability, crying, or overeating. When we’re stressed, our brains get flooded with stress hormones and the midbrain takes over, and the front of the brain works less well. Having a chronic disease makes it even harder to bounce back physically from the toll the stress response takes.

When the brain senses danger or a need to fight, it tells the muscles to tighten and signals the adrenal glands to release stress hormones—such as adrenaline and cortisol, making you breathe faster, getting more oxygen to your muscles. They trigger the release of sugar and fat into the blood, giving your cells more energy. putting your body through this frequently may create a cascade of dangerous and lasting effects.

A big part of stress management focuses on triggering the opposite of the stress response: the relaxation response, which helps lower blood pressure, oxygen consumption, breathing rate, heart rate, and stress hormones. Techniques to elicit the response include deep breathing exercises, guided imagery, yoga, tai chi, meditation, and talking about your concerns with loved ones.

How this can help seniors:

Mindfulness. Meditate and Be Thankful
A sense of mindfulness is one of our primary means of dealing with stress, and meditation is easier than you think. Start by eliminating distractions around you and taking several deep breaths until you find yourself becoming calm; it’s easier to do when you think about things you are most thankful for. Allow yourself to relax and find a quiet inner place of peace, where you feel content and at rest.

Play with a Pet!
Take a walk with your dog, cuddle your cat. Pets offer soothing comfort to their owners; they are fun, loving, companions known for their ability to improve mental well-being. Seniors in assisted living and senior care communities have the opportunity to cuddle and stroke “visiting pets,” often part of a community’s pet therapy program.

Read Words of Inspiration or Just Read.
Find a story that inspires you! Read a biography that shares the story of a hero, find a poem that quiets your soul, or enjoy a piece of classic literature. Stories filled with acts of courage, trials that were overcome, and proverbial words of wisdom make for great reads. Make read ing a regular habit and allow yourself to simply read because it gives you pleasure and enjoyment.

Quick tips for ensuring a safer home for seniors:

Tip #1 – Create safety zones. Leave at least 3 feet of space around any heater – this is called a safety zone and it prevents objects from catching fire.

Tip #2 – Avoid parking in poorly-lit areas. Park in a well-lit area, as close to your final destination as possible to reduce muggings and theft.

Tip #3 – Protect your privacy at night. Draw the curtains and blinds so that no one can see inside your home.

Tip #4 – Promptly clean up any spills on the floor. Avoid stepping on wet or damp surfaces which can lead to falls and injury.

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